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Front Page » February 1, 2007 » Local News » Legislature considers altering open, public meetings guid...
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Legislature considers altering open, public meetings guidelines


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By LES BOWEN
Sun Advocate reporter

As the general legislative session continues, Utah lawmakers will consider various bills which affect the ability of the general public to keep informed about the actions of elected and appointed officials.

Four bills have been proposed in the Utah House of Representatives to change the requirements for notices of public meetings.

In House Bill 10, Rep. Wayne Harper of West Jordan is seeking a change to the existing requirements for written minutes and recordings of open meetings and clarifies the definition of a public body.

Harper's bill would add to the requirements of written and recorded minutes and require a more complete record than mandated by Utah's current Open and Public Meeting Act.

In order to be considered a public body, the act states that the entity must be created by statute, rule, ordinance and resolution.

HB 10 adds entities created by the Utah Constitution. The bill changes the content which must be recorded in the written minutes of the meeting.

Current state law does not require the written minutes to contain the comments and summary statements made by public officials.

If passed, minutes of city councils, the county commission and other public entities in Carbon County, such as the Price River Water improvement District and the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments, would be required to include a summary of the comments made by councilmembers, mayors, commissioners or other public officials.

Regarding the votes taken by a public body, the bill would also require that each member's vote be recorded on each motion or other action taken by the public body.

If members of the public make comments or provide testimony to a public body, the comments and testimony, including the name of the individual who made the comment or testimony would not have to be summarized in the minutes.

And a final requirement the bill would make is for public entities to properly label recorded minutes with the date, place and time of the public meeting.

HB 10 passed the house earlier this month and is scheduled for a third reading and vote in the senate, where Sen. Howard Stephen of Draper is the senate sponsor.

After its second reading, the bill was supported by 28 senators with zero opposed and one absent.

House Bill 204 contains some of the same provisions as HB 10, with some additional provisions. Rep. Scott Wyatt of Logan proposed the bill which addresses requirements for notices of emergency meetings and what can be discussed at public meetings.

The bill adds language to the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act which would require that if a public body convenes with a quorum to receive public comments, that the gathering be considered a meeting as defined by the act.

HB 204 clarifies public bodies in the same manner as HB 10 to include those entities created by the Utah Constitution.

If passed, the bill would delete a provision in the Open and Public Meetings Act which defined a public hearing as "a portion of a meeting in which comments from the public will be accepted."

Under that definition, the public comment periods at the beginning of many public meetings would be considered as public hearings.

In other sections of state law, public hearings must be properly advertised in the local newspaper.

If passed, the bill would clarify that a public comment period may be allowed as part of a public meeting, even if it is not advertised as a public hearing.

The bill would also require that if the meeting is an electronic meeting, such as those conducted over television or other electronic means, the public body must provide space and facilities for members of the public to provide comments.

For emergency meetings, the bill would further change the Open and Public Meetings Act by requiring that the public body give proper notice to the public when practical and that all members of the public body be notified. On a city council, that would mean that each councilmember and the mayor be notified prior to the meeting. The law also requires the members of the public body to approve the emergency meeting.

One of the changes made by HB 204 would clarify what topics can legally be discussed at a public meeting. Many public bodies currently do not allow discussion of items not on the agenda. Others allow limited discussion.

The bill would clarify that matter by allowing discussion of items which are not on the agenda. Those discussions are at the discretion of the presiding officer.

However, the law further clarifies that unless the meeting is an emergency meeting, no actions may be taken by the public body unless it is on the agenda and properly posted prior to the public meeting.

Stephenson has signed on as the senate sponsor for HB 204. The bill passed the house with 68 votes favor, zero opposed and seven absent earlier this week and was introduced on the senate floor on Tuesday.

Two more bills regarding the Open and Public Meetings Act have yet to be heard on the senate floor.

House Bill 257 changes the requirements for special districts with a total annual budget less than $50,000. Currently independent special districts in this category are required to either make a recording or written minutes of public meetings. All other public entities are required to make both a written record and a recorded record. The bill would allow other special districts, which are not independent, to also choose to record or keep written minutes.

HB 257 is sponsored by Rep. Glenn Donnelson of North Ogden, but the legislative proposal has no sponsor in the Utah Senate.

The Utah House passed the bill with 73 votes in favor, zero opposed and two absent on Wednesday.

The bill has been forwarded to the Senate but cannot be heard until there is a sponsor.

House Bill 222 changes the requirements for posting notice of public meetings.

Rep. John Dougall of American Fork proposed the bill, which would require most public entities to post notices of public meetings on the Internet.

Currently, state statute requires public entities to post a notice in its main office or at the location where the meeting will be conducted.

Public entities are also required to give notice to the local newspaper or media correspondent.

If passed, public entities which place a public notice on a Web site will not be required to place a notice in the office or notify the local media.

A public entity which operates on a total annual budget less than $1 million may opt to place notice in its office and notify the newspaper in lieu of posting on the Internet.

One of the other provisions of the bill would make it illegal to overturn a decision of a public body if it did not meet the statute due to a technological failure but otherwise complies with the Open and Public Meetings Act.

Dougall's bill lacks a senate sponsor has yet to receive a vote on the House floor.



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